13 Feb 2007
Genetic research information worth hundreds of millions of dollars is being released to the public by a leading Pharmaceutical company free-of- charge. According to a recent article in Forbe’s Magazine, the Swiss-based drug giant Novartis is pioneering this nouvelle approach to handling information pertaining to the gene.
The gene is the basic unit of heredity found in the cells of all living organisms. Genes determine your physical characteristics and influence your very livelihood in a number of ways. Genes are composed of segments of DNA-a molecule that forms threadlike structures called chromosomes. Genetics is a pretty difficult branch of biology.
The decision to release the information free of charge on the World Wide Web was taken due to the fact that Novartis recognizes the importance of galvanizing ideas from all over the world to solve complex genetic problems. Novartis helped to uncover which of the 20,000 genes identified by the Human Genome Project could likely be associated with diabetes. The company decided not to hoard the data as is usually the norm in the industry but instead made it freely available. “It will take the entire world to interpret these data” Says Novartis’ lead researcher Mark Fishman. “We figure we will benefit more by having a lot of companies look at these data than by holding it secret”. The National Institude of Health (NIH) seems to agree with this new thinking as they are now suggesting this ‘free access’ approach as standard procedure for all her genetic research.
The collaborative efforts of scientists working in laboratories in Canada, Britain and France led to the breakthrough in diabetic research announced Feb 11th. They discovered vital genetic clues to diabetes. This metabolic disease in which patients are deficient in insulin (a substance produced in the pancreas that metabolizes sugar) affects hundreds of millions of people globally. This discovery will help accelerate the search for treatment of diabetes.
The technique used involved the rapid scanning of large amounts of DNA (genetic material) from a large sample of patients. The DNA of 700 diabetics and 700 healthy patients were scanned. New chips that can read DNA codes at hundreds of thousands of locations at once are then used to gather the information to list in a computer. The computer then uses this information to generate a list of genetic differences between diabetics and healthy people. The results obtained are further subjected to more differentiation so as to narrow the chances of error. The final selections (60 most striking genetic differences) were then compared with a larger sample of genes from diabetic and healthy people to conclusively pin down the culprit genes.
It is generally agreed in scientific circles that the future of disease management lies in our understanding of the human gene. The hope of combating a host of killer diseases in the future depends on our ability to understand and manipulate these basic units of our cells.
That process can only be accelerated if different companies and Universities make available to the all members of the International scientific community relevant information in their keeping. Yes, many companies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to assemble or purchase such genetic data. They are certainly realizing like Novartis that they cannot rely on the few eggheads in their laboratories to decipher all this wealth of data and turn the information therein in reasonable time for the benefit of mankind. There will need to reach out to more people to help exploit the wealth knowledge that has been stuck in the drawers for long. If more firms embrace the approach of Novartis, the future of genetic research will be rosy.
Njei Moses Timah